20Now Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon. So they came to him in a body; and after winning over Blastus, the king’s chamberlain, they asked for a reconciliation, because their country depended on the king’s country for food. 21On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat on the platform, and delivered a public address to them. 22The people kept shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a mortal!” 23And immediately, because he had not given the glory to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died. 24But the word of God continued to advance and gain adherents. 25Then after completing their mission Barnabas and Saul returned to Jerusalem and brought with them John, whose other name was Mark.
Now here is a strange story, one that feels out of context even! But we have just read of how Herod had had James killed, and had tried to kill Peter. Now, it seems, Herod gets his due – people today would say it was “karma”, but Luke is certain that it is God’s doing, because of Herod’s behavior. This incident, by the way, is confirmed historically in the writings of the historian, Josephus. People from the coastal cities of Tyre and Sidon petition for a meeting with Herod, asking to make up a rift between them, since these cities depend on the territory governed by Herod for food. Herod uses this as a great opportunity for public display. Josephus says that he is dressed all in silver, and the event takes place in the amphitheater, rather than inside his palace, so that there might be a greater audience. Herod delivers a great speech – at least the people, for whom making Herod happy was certainly an advantage, say that it is. They praise him, shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a mortal!” And Herod does not deny their words, does not give credit to God, provider of all good things and gifts, nor homage to Caesar (as under Roman rule he should have done; only Caesar could claim to be a god). And immediately, Luke says, he was struck dead on the spot, by an angel of God, and was eaten by worms – rather a gruesome description.
Luke provides a summary statement, as transition to the next segment, which will go back to the story of Paul and Barnabas. At this time they return to Jerusalem, bringing with them a young man named John Mark (at whose mother’s home Peter had sought shelter in the previous story).